The Rattler finally gets his place in Canton.
By Vaughn Wilson
(Source HBCU Gameday)
It took waiting 40 years, 1 month, and 8 days since Ken Riley played his last game in the NFL to add the final piece to his career legacy. That translates to 14, 300 days of waiting. A quiet and patient man, for all practical purposes, the wait was too long, but most certainly three years too long.
Destiny has finally come for Kenneth Jerome Riley. Known as “Ken” for those close to him and “Rattler” for those who played with him in the NFL, he has finally made his way to Canton. At the NFL Honors on Feb. 9, Riley was announced as a member in the senior division of the 2023 Pro Football Hall of Fame class. It was a long time coming…four decades in the works.
At the Metrodome in Minneapolis, MN, Ken Riley was joined by his family and famed coach Jake Gaither as he announced his retirement from the NFL. In that season, he would lead his team with 8 interceptions and earn NFL All-Pro.
The 5’11” standout high school quarterback from Union Academy (Bartow, FL) had previously been a standout for Florida A&M. He led the Rattlers’ explosive offense while academically being a Rhodes Scholar nominee. “We were pampered as quarterbacks in high school and college,” Riley said. But he was also known as a speedy athlete with the toughness to play both ways.
Ken Riley played quarterback for the Rattlers from 1965-1969, four years as a starter. In that time he led the Rattlers to three SIAC championships under Gaither.
His senior year, the Cincinnati Bengals selected Riley in the sixth round of the 1969 draft. Immediately after drafting him, they made the decision to switch him from quarterback to defensive back. “Paul Brown called me and told me that I needed to train as a defensive back because that’s what they wanted me to play,” Riley said. He had never played defensive back. “They sent a coach down to train me and Ron Sellers. We would train at Florida State with the guys they had going to the NFL as well.” He would learn quickly and his natural talent would shine as he was blessed with quick feet, quick reaction time and mobile hips…all valuable assets to be an NFL defensive back.
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